On a cozy winter’s night (admittedly not forefront in anyone's mind given the weekend we just had), French bistro fare becomes supreme comfort food. Whether it’s a cassoulet of duck confit, white beans, and sausage or a steaming bowl of les moules with a side of frites, the French are masters of satiation. While my favorite bistros in the city remain Chapeau and L’Ardoise, recent visits to two provided gourmet sustenance with authentic French cheer. P.S. They are both taking Valentine’s Day reservations...
CHEZ PAPA BISTROT
On a corner space atop Potrero Hill, with views of our fair city twinkling below, the French bistro vibe here borders on magical when the friendly staff and owner welcome you in. I used to dine here years back when my then-to-be husband lived in the neighborhood. We especially enjoyed going for mussels ($14) and frites ($5) with a glass of wine, even if general dishes were not overly memorable. I’d still say the highlight of the place is its French joie de vivre. With new chef Shawn Paul on board – veteran of everywhere from The French Laundry to 1300 on Fillmore ), French classics and Chez Papa stand-bys remain strong. Les moules come in four classic interpretations, including garlic, parsley, and white wine, or perked up by Spanish chorizo with roasted bell pepper and parsley. Chef Paul sweetens seared Sonoma foie gras ($17) with blackberry-ginger compote and blackberry gastrique. Where I best witnessed his promise was in an amuse bouche of plump shrimp on celery root puree. Pesto, tomato, and truffle oil imbued it with a spirit reminiscent of classic shrimp remoulade in New Orleans.
1401 18th St., SF. (415) 824-8205, www.chezpapasf.com
BISTRO CENTRAL PARC
Bistro Central Parc opened at the beginning of 2010 and swiftly became NoPa and Western Addition’s favorite French bistro. Owner Jacques Manuera transports the relaxed spirit of his home in Strasbourg, France (on the Eastern border of the country) to this straightforward space -- he also ran the kitchen in SF's Baker Street Bistro for 18 years. Bistro Central Parc maintains a similar feel with classic French menu of escargots, French onion soup, mussels, cassoulet, and duck confit. Chef de cuisine Nicolas Jardin experiments with entrees like risotto in a lobster sauce ($19), which he forms into a circle with four seared scallops on top. A beef tournedos rossini special ($28), high-priced for a neighborhood bistro, is decadantly rich layered with foie gras and crispy parsnips atop potato gratin, swimming in a dessert-like port wine sauce. But not every dish is high on the fat quotient. Salads are full of fresh greens -- or in the case of the frisee, housing a poached egg. Pair with a glass of Pouilly-Fuissé and call it a night.
560 Central, SF. (415) 931-7272, www.bistrocentralparc.com
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